The NHL All-Star Game has lost legitimacy in recent years thanks to players declining invites in favor of spending time away from the game with family and friends. Depending on where the game is played, it can mean a long trip for some players to play in what is essentially a meaningless game. Making matters worse is the fact that one of the players who often refuses to go is the league's poster boy and perennial MVP candidate Sidney Crosby.
The league introduced one-game suspensions last year for uninjured players who planned to skip All Star Weekend, but even that didn't deter Alex Ovechkin or Jonathan Toews from skipping last year's festivities. Of course, they had the privilege of being on very good teams who could afford to lose their services for a single game, but it proved how little some players care for what, in essence, is an exhibition game.
The format has also changed. Rather than the traditional Conference versus Conference game, the All-Star Game is now a mini 3-on-3 tournament pitting divisions against each other. It's slightly more entertaining, but it still means little in the big picture. It is, however, the NHL's 100th anniversary and you can rest assured the league will do everything it can to ensure its best players attend. But while there might not be many skipping the game this year, there are several players who should be going that aren't.
15 Cam Talbot
The league, for the most part, got the goaltending selections right. The six best goaltenders in the league right now were named to their respective division teams - Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky, Corey Crawford, and Devan Dubnyk - but the wrong call was made in the Pacific, where Martin Jones and Mike Smith were selected.
Beyond the fact that there are more deserving Coyotes (each team must be represented by at least one player), Mike Smith simply doesn't have the numbers worthy of an All-Star. His 2.83 goals against average is among the league's worst, though the team in front of him is a tire fire at best. Still, the case can easily be made for Edmonton's Cam Talbot, who has provided the Oilers with consistent goaltending for the first time since Dwayne Roloson in the early 2000s. Talbot owns a 20-12-6 record to go along with a 2.51 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
14 Roman Josi
This one isn't so much a snub as a result of the league as it is the fans. First-year Nashville Predator P.K. Subban was named the Central Division captain through fan voting, which, statistically speaking, meant he was likely to be the only Nashville player to make the team. That was the case when selections were announced on Tuesday, January 10th.
Subban is a talented blueliner and an immense personality who should liven up an otherwise stale weekend, but he isn't deserving of the nod. The 27-year-old is eighth on his own team in scoring, although he has missed 12 games to injury. Still, by virtue of being selected by the fans, Subban takes away a spot from other deserving Predators, namely Roman Josi, who has been one of the league's most underrated defensemen for years. This season Josi has 22 points in 41 games and is a minus-5 compared to Subban's underwhelming minus-11 rating.
13 Cam Atkinson
The Columbus Blue Jackets may have cooled off since ending their 16-game win streak, but they remain one of the league's best teams and, as such, should be represented by numerous players at this year's All-Star Game. Instead, only the team's goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, and defensemen Seth Jones were selected.
The Jackets' run was about more than good goaltending. Columbus has a deep forward group led by Cam Atkinson, who has emerged as a legitimate star in the league this year. He's tenth in the league in points, but unfortunately happens to be fifth in the division (another ahead of him also didn't make it, but we'll get to that later). Oh, and Atkinson's 20 goals are good enough to be tied for sixth in the league, just six behind Sidney Crosby. He should have had no trouble being picked over Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Toews.
12 Mitch Marner
Auston Matthews was the obvious choice for the lone Toronto Maple Leaf to be selected to the All-Star Game, but there were others who have had tremendous seasons. If not for an abysmal start to the season, Frederik Andersen might have earned one of the two goaltending spots. But perhaps most deserving was Mitch Marner, the first-year player with incredible vision.
Marner is third on the Leafs in scoring with 32 points in 39 games, one point behind James Van Reimsdyk, but if you've watched Toronto's games this year, you would know that Marner is directly responsible for a lot of JVR's points. More than anything, it would be tremendously entertaining to see the lanky forward with magic mittens play an entire game of 3-on-3. His 22 assists ranks 28th in the league, but he's played at least one minute fewer than each of the top 30 players in that category.
11 Jakub Voracek
After a down year in 2015-16 in which he only scored 11 goals, Jakub Voracek has been the catalyst for improvement in Philadelphia this season. The Czech winger has already surpassed last year's goal total and has a team-leading 39 points in 43 games.
But instead of Voracek, it's Wayne Simmonds representing the Flyers. Simmonds is on pace for his second consecutive 30-goal season, but the big winger is behind both Voracek and Claude Giroux in team scoring. He's an extremely effective player in high-intensity games, but doesn't have the skill level of Voracek, who would have been the more entertaining 3-on-3 choice. A lot of the omissions on this list were a result of the league's desire to have each team represented, but this one is slightly confusing given there was better options on the Flyers.
10 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
When we mentioned there was more deserving All-Stars than Mike Smith on the Coyotes, we meant Oliver Ekman-Larsson and nobody else. It's true, the Coyotes are once again one of the league's worst teams and will likely be entering full-tank mode in the NHL's second half, but OEL deserves some love.
Widely regarded as one of the best defenseman in the league, OEL has the misfortune of playing in Glendale, where few fans come out to see him, let alone national media. That said, the 25-year-old and former sixth overall pick has been an extremely reliable top-pair blueliner for the past five-and-a-half seasons. He's below his career-high pace of 55 points last season, but is still second on the Coyotes in points with 20 in 40 games. Did we mention Arizona was an awful team?
9 David Pastrnak
The Atlantic Division team might be the worst the league has to offer and it's not because of a lack of talent. Unfortunately, Detroit, Buffalo, and Florida had to be represented, which is why three of the six Atlantic Division forwards - Vincent Trocheck, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo - are undeserving selections.
Both Tuukka Rask and Brad Marchand are more than deserving of the accolade, but the case can easily be made for young Czech winger David Pastrnak, who happens to be tied for eighth in goal scoring with 19 in just 37 games. He missed seven games due to injury, leaving him fifth in the league in goals per game, slightly ahead of Finnish rookie Patrik Laine, who receives far more attention for his goal-scoring ability.
8 Artem Anisimov
The NHL loves the Chicago Blackhawks and we can't blame them. The organization is the closest thing the league has had to a dynasty since the Oilers and Islanders took turns dominating in the 80s. That's why it was no surprise that Blackhawks made up four of the 11 selections in the Central Division. We're not going to pretend that Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford weren't deserving, but Jonathan Toews making the team is an absolute joke, especially when there was more deserving players on his own team.
Artem Anisimov is one of those players. The 28-year-old Russian is third on the Blackhawks in points with 31 and leads the team in goals in 18. Toews, meanwhile, is sixth in points and seventh in goals. One theory is that he might be among the league's top-100 players, which plans on getting announced during All-Star Weekend. Regardless, even Toews is on record as saying he didn't deserve the nod.
7 Max Pacioretty
Year after year we expect Max Pacioretty to slow down his scoring pace, but it doesn't happen; instead, the American winger has become one of the most consistent scorers in the league over the past six seasons. He has an above-average shot, decent size, and a nose for the net, but there's not one thing that stands out about his game. Yet, not including the lockout-shortened season, he has topped 30 goals in each of the last four seasons and is on pace to do so again this year - he has 19 goals in 41 games and leads the Montreal Canadiens in scoring with 35 points.
He should be an all-star over the three Atlantic forwards we mentioned earlier - Nielsen, Trocheck, and Okposo - but instead he'll have to suffer through a weekend of rest and relaxation as the Canadiens get ready for a strong second half.
6 Rasmus Ristolainen
Poor Rasmus Ristolainen. The 22-year-old Finnish defenseman has been one of the best in the league this season with 27 points in 40 games, tied for the team lead in points with Kyle Okposo, who was the Sabres' selection and Sam Reinhart. Obviously, the point total is far more impressive for a defenseman, but Okposo was selected simply because the Atlantic Division, while thin up front, is loaded with talent on the back-end.
Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, and Victor Hedman make up the division's three rearguards. Karlsson is one of the game's most dynamic players, Weber has transformed the Canadiens into a feared, Cup-contending team, and Hedman is second in defense scoring with 37 points in 42 games. Ristolainen, meanwhile, has the sixth most points among defensemen and has played All-Star caliber hockey since the season began.
5 Phil Kessel
Even if he weren't producing at the best rate he has throughout his career, we would have wanted to see Phil "The Thrill" Kessel at the All-Star Game. Once the symbol of everything wrong in Toronto, Phil (he's earned first-name recognition at this point) has become a loveable legend in Pittsburgh as the team and their public relations staff has embraced his quirks and odd character traits. He's an awkward dude, but man can he play hockey.
Phil has 41 points in 40 games this season, despite everyone anticipating the day when his lackluster training and eating habits catches up to him. It hasn't. It's easy to see why Phil wasn't selected as teammates Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were picked for the team. Oh well, we'll always have the time when he was the last pick during the NHL's first attempt at allowing the players to pick the teams.
4 Michael Grabner
It's too bad there was no John Scott of this year's All-Star Game. And while the league did plenty to avoid a similar situation to last year, it would have been great to see journeyman Michael Grabner honored. The 29-year-old Austrian scored 34 goals in 2010-11 with the New York Islanders, but combined to score just 65 over the next five seasons. Last year, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had just nine goals, despite his speed creating what seemed to be a breakaway a night.
This year, however, Grabner has been a revelation with the New York Rangers. Signed to a one-year deal (which was even somewhat surprising), Grabner is sixth on the Rangers in points with 27, but leads the team in goals with 19 (tied for eighth in the league) and plus-minus with a plus-22 rating. Add in his blazing speed and he would have been one of the more fun players to watch 3-on-3.
3 Mark Scheifele
In the middle of a breakout season, Mark Scheifele might not be an All-Star Game snub for too long depending on the status of teammate Patrik Laine, who was chosen as the Winnipeg Jets' representative. Laine was concussed after being on the wrong end of one of the biggest open-ice hits in recent memory when he was clocked by Buffalo's Jake McCabe. It's possible he could return before the All-Star Game, but there's no way the Jets would want to risk the health of their young franchise player.
Scheifele would be the perfect replacement. He has the two more points than Laine (39) in one fewer games and has arguably been the team's best overall player. Sure, Laine's 21 goals (22 if you count the one scored on his own net) have, for the most part, been astonishing, but Scheifele has 19 himself and has been a big reason for Laine's early success.
2 Zach Werenski
If Patrik Laine is out for an extended period of time, the consensus is that Auston Matthews will win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, but as good as Matthews is, nobody is etching his name into the trophy just yet. That's because Zach Werenski has not only been the Columbus Blue Jackets' best defenseman this season, but he's been one of the tops in the Metropolitan Division.
Through 40 games, Werenski has 25 points, which is tied with Rangers' Ryan McDonagh and eight points ahead of Carolina's Justin Faulk, both of whom were selected over Werenski. Even worse, Werenski's teammate Seth Jones was picked as the Metro's third defenseman, despite posting seven fewer points than Werenski. Jones has played six fewer games, but if the NHL wants people to watch the All-Star Game, it's going to have to invest in and promote its young, marketable stars.
1 Artemi Panarin
Under the new All-Star Game format, being seventh in the league in points apparently means very little, especially when you're on a team with with NHL- and media-darling Jonathan Toews. As we mentioned earlier, "Captain Serious" himself has admitted he doesn't belong in the game, so kudos to him, but choosing him at the expense of Panarin is disappointing on so many levels.
Many people discredited the 25-year-old Russian's 77-point rookie season last year because he had the good fortune of playing with Patrick Kane. He's still doing so this year but what has become clear is that Kane is benefiting from Panarin as much as he is benefiting from the American. Toews does many things well that often go unnoticed, but his skill level is nowhere near that of Panarin. And here we thought the All-Star Game was all about showcasing the skill of the league's most talented players.